Republican Glenn Youngkin delivered a surprise for the ages Tuesday night, defeating Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial election, a result that sent political shockwaves across America ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
With 95 percent of the vote expected, Yongkin received 51 percent of the vote compared to 48.3 percent for McAuliffe, with a margin of more than 88,000 votes from the more than 3.1 million cast.
The Republicans also had little progress in the races for two other statewide offices in Virginia. Businesswoman and former Virginia House of Delegates Winsome Sears will become the first black governor in the history of the Commonwealth and the first black woman to win a state office if she defeats current Representative Hala Ayala.
In the Virginia attorney general’s race, Republican Jason Millais, a descendant of Cuban exiles, was led by Democrat Mark Hering, who was seeking a third consecutive term in that position. Millais will be the first Hispanic to hold a statewide position in Virginia.
A cheerful statement declared by the Republican National Committee: “The red wave is here!”
“This Republican sweep of Virginia is a resounding rebuke of the failed policies of Joe Biden and Democrats,” the FNC said Virginians — and Americans across the country — are sick of Biden’s divisive policies, failed leadership, and the Democrats’ work-damaging agenda. families. A Republican wave is coming in 2022, and Virginia is just the beginning.”
Yongkin, who ran against ex-governor Biden by 10 percentage points last year, has focused his campaign on winning back the suburban residents alienated by former President Donald Trump.
He did so by keeping Trump out of sight throughout the race and challenging McAuliffe on domestic issues like the economy and education, calling for more parental involvement in schools and pledging to ban the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 classrooms.
As a result, Yongkin made large margins in the traditionally republican areas of the south and west of the Commonwealth and performed well enough in the democratic-leaning suburbs of the capital in Northern Virginia to score a clear victory that seemed unlikely even two months ago, when one of the polls had it. Possible voters put him behind McAuliffe by 9 percentage points.
“I would like to thank BASE for coming out strong and voting for Glenn Yongkin,” Trump said in an emailed statement. “Without you, he wouldn’t have come close to winning. The MAGA movement is bigger and stronger than ever. Glenn would be a great governor. Thank you to the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia and most especially the amazing MAGA voters!”
McAuliffe may have inadvertently given Youngkin a foothold in the race during a debate on September 28, when the topic turned to parental objections to racially charged or sexually explicit curriculum material.
“I don’t think parents should tell schools what to teach,” the Democrat said, giving Yongkin an opportunity to accuse him of wanting to “repress and silence” parents so that schools can push a “radical political agenda” into the classroom.
Two other events in early October gave Yongkin the opportunity to press the case. First, on October 4, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the FBI would take the lead in investigating what he called a “disturbing rise in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”
Days later, reports surfaced that the affluent Loudoun County public school district had covered up the sexual assault of a high school student earlier this year. The girl’s father was arrested when trying to confront school board officials over the alleged attack, an incident cited as possible domestic terrorism in a letter from the National School Boards Association to Garland days before the October 4 announcement.
“Terry McAuliffe has shown that he cares more about his career than he cares about Virginians,” Youngkin told Fox News in an interview last week. He wants to put the government between parents and their children. If he doesn’t like the answer, then all of a sudden, the FBI comes in and tries to silence them.”
That message paid off in places like Loudoun County, where McAuliffe led Yongkin by 10 percentage points with the most votes counted. By contrast, Democrat Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie by 20 percentage points in the most recent gubernatorial election in 2017.
Although education got most of the press in the final weeks of the campaign, an Associated Press VoteCast poll showed that more than a third of voters (34 percent) chose the economy as the number one issue. Nearly 17 percent said COVID-19 was the most important issue, while 14 percent chose education.
However, voters who ranked the economy and education as the most important issues were more likely to support Yongkin, who campaigned on a promise to cut taxes and regulations.
The two candidates had said that the consequences of the election would be felt outside Virginia.
In one of his last campaign events, McAuliffe insisted that “the stakes are high.” Yongkin said the election would send “a statement that will be heard throughout this country.”
Vice President Kamala Harris delivered an even more stark warning at McAuliffe’s rally last week, telling supporters that “what happens in Virginia will largely determine what happens in 2022, 2024 and beyond.”
After Tuesday night’s result, Democrats hope she was wrong.